Farewell Warrior

by: Sharief Khan

(Courtesy of the Guyana Chronicle - March 11, 1997)

He lit the torch of freedom and democracy in his life and, in death yesterday, President Cheddi Jagan continued to reignite the spirit of national unity he helped forge when he began his political struggles some 50 years ago.

The groundswell of homage and tribute that began with his final return home Friday afternoon built into a national outpouring yesterday, unlike anything ever seen in this country, almost everyone agreed.

From the State official farewell ceremony at Parliament Buildings in Georgetown early yesterday morning, stretching into late last night, Guyanese put aside differences and poured into the streets and along the roads to resoundingly register their sorrow at his loss. The crowds teemed in Georgetown streets and the cortege took some five-and-a-half hours to traverse the 67 miles between the capital and the Rosignol stelling on West Coast Berbice.

They came form all races, classes, creeds - men, women, and children, the rich, the poor, the disabled, the strong, the old and the young, waving black flags, clutching posters with his portraits, strewing the path of the truck bearing his casket with flowers and showering the coffin with petals.

In the truck riding with the military escorts for the casket with his son, Dr. Cheddi Jagan Jnr. and in cars behind were his widow Janet, daughter Nadira, daughter-in-law Nadia, his five grandchildren and other immediate family members.

It was a slow march and all along the way from outside Georgetown, the thousand lined the main roadway to Rosignol and the trek continued to Albion.

They were there for the early morning march of the casket, draped with the national flag and on a gun-carriage, to the compound of Parliament Buildings for the 9 a.m. State funeral service.

With the convoy was a riderless dark brown horse, saddle turned backwards with empty riding boots - symbol of a fallen Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

In the forecourt of the compound, the casket lay on a red carpet, flanked east and west by members of the Jagan family on chairs placed on green carpet - all under a white canopy.

On the lawns and on the balconies were overseas and other dignitaries and special invitees. Outside, behind Police barricades, the solemn crowds watched and listened.

And all around the city, thousands more who could not get close, milled around, waiting for when the cortege would leave the compound.

The sky was overcast; the military honour guard stood in two groups east and west of the canopy, the gathering in the arc of the compound and on the balconies of Parliament Buildings facing north, northeast and northwest.

Red and black banners were draped along the balconies and around the pillars of the imposing structure and posters of the late President were all around.

The riderless horse, flanked by two Lance Corporals of the police Mounted Branch, stood just the east of the tent; further in the northeastern corner of the compound was the statue of the father of trade unionism in Guyana, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow.

The sun peeped weakly through the sombre clouds just before the start of the proceeding. Somewhere in the background, a bird kept up a warbling for part of the morning.

Chairman of the ceremony, Information Minister, Mr. Moses Nagamootoo introduced President Sam Hinds as a "trusted partner" of Dr. Jagan before stepping away from the microphone said: "the torch has now changed hands. Over to you, Mr. President."

A cheer rose from the crowd outside the compound.

President Hinds recalled that it was Dr. Jagan who had brought him and other Civic members into the PPP/Civic alliance which won the creation of the association was a "bold and courageous stretching out of hands".

He again acknowledged the sacrifice by longstanding key members of the PPP in agreeing to the PPP/Civic alliance and pledged that Dr. Jagan's spirit will continue.

Then came prayers and tributes from representatives of the country's three main religions and testimonials in homage, including the eulogy by Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Feroze Mohamed.

Int he rostrum area, the dignitaries included former President Arthur Chung and his wife, former First Lady Viola Burnham and heads of overseas delegations her for the funeral service.

Fifty minutes later the sun shone through and umbrellas when up.

Then, among others, followed the stirring delivery by Education Minister, Dr. Dale Bisnaught of Martin Carter's 'Death of a Comrade' and 'This is the dark time my love', Senior Counsel, Mr. Ashton Chase's tribute to the man "undisputably Guyana's greatest 20th century hero" and "our greatest freedom fighter", Mr. Vic Insanally's readings of excerpts from Dr. Jagan's speeches and writings, Mr. Rupert Singh's moving rendition of the song 'Hands across Guyana', Mrs. Jagan's firm, steady pledge that "All of us will carry the torch he lit so many years ago", and Mr. Mohamed's eloquent eulogy.

The sky darkened again shortly after 11 a.m. and as the ceremony neared the end, Nagamootoo recorded the sympathies of Guyanese to Jamaicans on the death last week of former Prime Minister Michael Manley and thanked the governments of Suriname and Cuba for declaring national days of mourning for Dr. Jagan.

Two Army buglers on the roof of Parliament Buildings sounded the Last Post at 11:35 a.m. and by noon the solemnities there were over and the cortege was on its way.

Mrs. Jagan and other family members followed the truck with the casket on foot to PPP headquarters in Robb Street and then boarded official cars for the procession along the East Coast Demerara to Rosignol.

Everywhere the people poured forth - from Georgetown streets to the sea wall up to Liliendaal and all along the stretches.

They seemed to come from everywhere - what one radio commentator called a "sea of humanity" - to bid farewell to their fallen hero and warrior.

Police on motorcycles and in cars constantly moved up and down to keep the road clear for the cortege and Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis, when the procession had reached the Rosignol stelling, praised the crowds for the good behavior.

He said there were several forced stops - at Buxton, Bush Lot, Bath, Enterprise and at Ogle a man with a child positioned himself in front of the truck, forcing the procession to halt.

Dr. Jagan Jnr. Was particulary moved with the outpouring at Buxton and told the Chronicle the gathering there was "the most impressive".

But in all the heavily-populated areas, the crowds were thick.

Lewis said he had seen larger crowds in some specific areas in Guyana before but added, "I have never seen such consistently large crowds between Georgetown and Rosignol."

He said there were some incidents along the way to Rosignol where persons tried to get into the open-sided vehicle and the three or four times when others tried to stop the truck. "These were amicably settled," he said, adding, "Overall, the people behaved tremendously well and it made our work, though tough, much easier."

Perhaps a signal of what was to happen at Albion later last night came when the procession began moving off the Rosignol stelling on to the MV Makouri.

Despite the Police wooden barricades on both sides of the road to the stelling, the thousands surged towards the gates, trying to get through to be with the procession, some shouting "Uncle Cheddi! Uncle Cheddi!"

The padlocked gates kept them back but a little after the vessel, under the command of Captain Neville Bourne pulled off from the stelling at 6:05 p.m. and the gates were opened, they rushed through to wave the ferry boat off.

Before that, two old ladies on the stelling watched the procession go on board and as the Makouri moved off, they shook their heads sadly.

One said: "sad, how very sad."

Her companion added: "Farewell, goodbye, Cheddi..."

Outside, other women cried.

They and others had waited for hours around the stelling area and along the road leading to the stelling, anxiously peering westwards for a sight of the cortege.

Many wondered aloud whether they would be allowed to see the body as in the background hymns were played on the stelling public address system.

Along the way, there were banners: 'Farewell Mr. President'; 'Don't worry, everything will be alright'; 'Farewell our beloved President'; 'We pledge to continue the struggle to unite the nation'.

The message was clear: the late President by his life and his death has set hope for the forward movement of the nation burning brightly in their breasts - even amid the tears and sorrow.

He is to be cremated at his birthplace Port Mourant today at 2 p.m.

And the grief and hope will be multiplied.